Most of us started bodybuilding with almost zero practical knowledge in the field of nutrition and metabolism.
Most of the time, when we first start this “health” journey, we get ourselves into the feet of a person that is very interested in what he should do to make his body better, lose some weight, build some muscle or whatever that goal might be.
That person (you) starts asking questions…
What happens next
The bad thing that happens most of the time is the nutrition advice you get is not only full of nonsense but also potentially dangerous!
How many times have you heard the saying “Eat 6 meals a day to pump that metabolic furnace”?
I will show you why eating 6 meals a day is nonsense.
The Meal Frequency Dogma
Bodybuilders would be one of the main culprit that spread this myth around.
Most of them, if not all of them, are the most obsessive with eating every 2-3 hours. They eat calories in small amounts through the day because they believe that your body needs to be constantly supplied with the precious aminoacids or calories required for growth, protein utilization or even fat loss.
And here you get the classic example of how a false belief of eating small but frequent meals (every 2-3 hours), is spread even nowadays when the access to the information is at its culmination.
The Thermic Effect Of Feeding
The TEF or thermic effect of feeding means that calories get burned by processing the food you eat.
Much of the research concerning this topic is misinterpreted by the weight loss gurus. They are preaching nonsense like the more frequent you eat, the more your metabolic rate fires up, the more fat you burn right?
A BIG NO !
Why is that?
The practical advice you should take from this is that whenever you are eating 7 meals per day or 3 meals per day, the TEF is still approximately 10% (the only research that ever found out that 1 meal can lower your metabolism was done on rats and this is pretty much not applicable to humans).
Taking a diet of 3000 calories per day (macronutrient ratios don’t matter, just assume a good protein ratio of at least 1g/lean body mass), we go ahead and demonstrate how TEF works in real life:
- Diet 1 – 3 meals at 1000 calories/meal – The first diet will have the TEF of 100 calories per meal which in total makes 300 calories per day
- Diet 2 – 6 meals at 500 calories/meal – The second diet will have the TEF of 50 calories per meal which in total means 300 calories per day
As you can see , the thermic effect of feeding is 300 in both cases.
Thee takeaway is that you can’t trick your body into burning more calories by eating smaller frequent meals.
I will also talk about the most commonly cited paper on meal frequency myth that you can find on the internet.
The study in which two boxers were put on 1200 calories per day. They ate those calories in 6 or 2 meals.
The results are surprising…
In that study, both of the assigned groups lost muscle mass but the higher meal frequency group lost less than the lower meal frequency group.
The lower frequency group lost 3.5 kg of lean mass compared to 2.4 kg of lean mass from the high frequency group that ate 6 meals per day.
This is one of those studies that are referenced by many so called gurus that cite this study as undeniable proof that higher meal frequency beats lower meal frequency.
The general diet these boxers received was formed of 1200 calories administered as a liquid formula.
First, 1200 calories for two training boxers is too low.
Their daily caloric expenditure was over 3000. In no circumstances someone sane would put himself in all that training with only 1200 calories (that’s 60% under their maintenance which is overkill).
Secondly, they were fed liquid food which also digests faster than solid food.
The only time when research found better muscle mass retention with higher frequency is when there isn’t sufficient protein intake.
More Studies That Dispel The Meal Frequency Myth:
- One of the earliest study on meal frequency was done in 1963 in which 11 men were fed with excess calories consumed in 2 small snacks plus a large evening meal or 9 small feedings. Researchers saw a similar rate of weight gain in both groups (reference 1)
- In another one, 14 of the total 28 patients experienced greater weight loss when consuming 500 calories in 2 meals than 200 calories in five meals (2nd reference)
- In 1989, David Jenkins M.D, Ph. D. and his University of Toronto colleagues did a study in which seven men were assigned to 3 meals vs 17 snack meals per day. No significant difference observed in weight lost (3rd reference)
- 2 meals vs 6 meals in these subjects, no differences found
- A study showed that any effects on the meal patterns on bodyweight regulations are mediated through the energy balance side
- No difference in nutrient utilization and feeding frequency in man
- Effects on apetite and metabolism of one meal difference when using lower meal frequency
- Regular meal frequency has beneficial metabolic effects
There still are some people that believe their metabolism will slow down if they don’t eat frequently.
In reality, there is no study available to prove that a human skipping a meal or even a day has this problem.
The metabolism doesn’t work that way, and starvation mode is also an overused phrase.
If you still question this, ask yourself how is that people practicing intermittent fasting still lose weight while maintaining all of their muscle mass and in some cases they also gain muscle.
Ending with this myth once and for all, the answer to your meal problems is as follows:
Just eat whenever you want and you feel like.
- If 6 meals a day makes you feel awesome, and you like that way of eating, go ahead and do it
- If 6 meals a day keep you hungry and away from what matters in life, just eat 2-3-4 meals/day
- If 3 meals a day keep you happy, continue like that
And so on… just realize that in life there is much more than just overstressing over the meal frequency or keeping cans of tuna or chicken breast with rice in your backpack to feed your musklesz.
Don’t forget that the only thing that matters is hitting your macronutrients for the day.
I hope that now, you will better understand what are the facts regarding the meal frequency myth.
When someone will come telling you to eat 5-7 meals per day to “fire the methabolic furnace” or whatever, you will have the answers and also give them this article as a reference.
Share it even with just one important person in your life that you think will benefit from reading this article.